Your Social Security Disability Glossary

Filing a Social Security disability claim can be confusing. Much of the confusion is because filing a claim involves understanding an array of unfamiliar terms and acronyms. The following is a list of common terms and abbreviations defined to give you a better understanding when filing your disability claim.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

The basic activities the average person engages in as a part of daily living. These activities may include things done to maintain personal hygiene and health, such as bathing, dressing, toileting, and eating. They may also include activities such as household chores and shopping. The SSA considers your ability to perform these tasks when determining your ability to work. 

Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)

A judge who conducts hearings for the Social Security Administration (SSA). An ALJ reviews disability case files, hears testimony, examines evidence, and makes decisions on cases brought by individuals appealing a denial of their initial disability claim. 

Alleged Onset Date (AOD)

The date you claim your disability began. This date is important to your approval because an applicant must be disabled for at least 12 months, or expected to be disabled for 12 months, to receive disability benefits. 

Back Pay (a.k.a. retroactive benefits)

Once approved for benefits, you are entitled to receive past due benefits that accrued starting 5 months after the onset date of your disability. Since disability claim processing may take a long time, many claimants receive large sums of back pay.

Disability (Definition used by Social Security for Adults)

The SSA has a specific definition of disability. For disability claims filed by adults, they define disability as “The inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

Disability (Definition used by Social Security for Children)

Claims for SSI disabled child benefits involve a child under age 18 whose parents are seeking financial and medical help. For these disability claims, the SSA considers the child disabled “if he or she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or a combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to cause death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

Disability Determination Services (DDS)

A team of members from your local or state Social Security office who work together to evaluate your disability claim. Depending on your claim, the members of this team could include a Disability Examiner (DE), Medical Consultant (MC) and Psychological Consultant (PC). After evaluating your claim, the DDS makes recommendations to the SSA of whether you are eligible for benefits. You have the right to appeal their decision.


A Federal health insurance program, run by each state, which assists low-income disabled individuals with medical costs. The eligibility and the amount of assistance given varies by state.

Medically Determinable Impairment

The SSA requires your medical condition (physical or mental) to be established by a certified medical professional using medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.

Medical Provider

A licensed medical professional who has treated your medical condition. 

Medical Treatment/Care

Any medical care you have received from your medical provider for the condition you are filing your claim about. Medical treatment could include physician consultations, therapy sessions for a mental or physical condition, being prescribed medication, etc.


A Federal health insurance program which assists individuals age 65 or older and eligible disabled adults.

Onset Date (Social Security)

This is the date the SSA concludes your disability began after reviewing your medical records. The date they conclude may not be the same as the AOD you put on your application.

Past Relevant Work (PRW)

This is work you may have done within the past 15 years, that met the requirements of substantial gainful activity, and lasted long enough for you to learn how to perform the work.

Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)

The SSA uses the RFC assessment to determine each applicant’s work capability limitations. The assessment would test the maximum ability you have to perform work activities in a normal work setting on a sustained basis. A normal work setting means work done for eight hours a day, five days a week, or the equivalent thereof. The SSA assesses both Physical RFC (PRFC) and Mental RFC (MRFC), according to a set classification of occupations.

Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Income, a federal program designed to provide income assistance to those who become disabled before the age of 65 and cannot work because of their disability. The program is funded by payroll tax deductions (FICA). To qualify for benefits you must have paid into the Social Security system for approximately five out of the last 10 years and cannot work due to a medically diagnosed condition that has lasted for 12 months or is expected to last for the next 12 months.

Social Security Listing of Impairments (a.k.a. Blue Book)

The SSA has a complex disability determination process. Part of the process consists of determining if your impairment is severe enough to prevent you from performing substantial gainful activity. The SSA uses a detailed listing (Blue Book) of 14 impairments to make this determination. The listing explains the medical requirements applicants must meet for the SSA to consider their condition severe enough.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

Any work you perform for pay or profit which involves significant physical or mental activities. The SSA uses earning limits, hours worked, and type of work to determine if the work you perform qualifies as SGA. The determining level of income changes from year to year and is higher for blind claimants.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income, a federal program, run by each state, which provides financial help to low-income elderly, blind, and disabled individuals. The program requires individuals to meet certain income and resource requirements.

You can see that there is a lot to understand about filing a Social Security disability claim. The process can be long and complicated. You should not try to do it on your own. Research shows that those who have the help of a disability attorney have a higher rate of disability benefits approval. 

Brock & Stout’s disability attorneys have been helping clients get the benefits they need for over 20 years. We know how important getting benefits can be to you and your family and want to help you. Contact us for a free evaluation and let our family help your family.